By Kathleen Plate with Naomi Campos

There we were, about 25 of us, wide-eyed staring at each other on a screen. At first, we just shared about the state of the world, tears, laughter, and a sense of connection in the midst of rolling quarantines and fear of COVID-19. We had so many questions. Our business compasses needed to be recalibrated. It was a godsend to see familiar faces and know we weren’t alone.

We all know the saying “Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten,” but for me, a solo entrepreneur of handcrafted jewelry for 29 years, most everything I needed to know I learned in trade show aisles. I did my first trade show in 1993, and, sure, I was there to write orders, but even more valuable to my business growth was the information, the guidance, support, and the friendships that developed with other brand owners. Writing orders was valuable, but the community and support of other handcrafted sellers was invaluable.

When the pandemic hit, we realized the trade show season for summer 2020 would be canceled. We panicked about the unknown like everyone in our industry. No shows meant no orders meant no income. No community in the aisles. Like everyone else, we were terrified.

I remember getting an email from my NY NOW neighbor Michelle of Attic Journals, asking me to join a Zoom get-together of handcrafted artists. This “check in” would have a similar vibe to a tradeshow “meet in the aisles” or a dinner after the show. I vividly remember dialing in via Zoom on June 4, 2020, and that’s when our ad-hoc group of terrified artisans was born: Bosses Helping Bosses.

We decided to meet the next week, and then the week after that. We organized ourselves to share things that were working for us individually, and we asked for help learning new skills. Collectively we began coaching each other, sharing resources, laughing about our ineptitude converting our businesses to digital, but also learning. We learned new computer programs, how to leverage social media and digital ads, how to write longtail keyword titles, and how to survive. We also talked a lot about how to show com­passion and support to storeowners who were equally freaked out.

The beautiful thing is that most of us emerged from this mas­sive business shift better than ever. I know I’m a better business owner, a better boss, and a better friend through this. It goes to show that in the wholesale world of small businesses, we are a community not competition. Banding together in this commu­nity, we thrive.

We even pooled resources together to take classes on different facets of our businesses. As we organized and met regularly, our efforts were working, but more than that, it was empowering.
Naomi, YedOmi Jewelry

While the world swirled and seethed around us, we had a place each week to make meaningful connections, network for the sake of the whole’s learning, and admit that the feat of pivoting in the midst of a pandemic was daunting when faced on our own.
Michelle, Attic Journals

What I loved most about this group is that we kept each other accountable for how we could better help our retail partners. Rather than just focusing inward on how the pandemic affected our own busi­nesses, together we looked outward and made it our priority to reach out and support our brick-and-mortar retailers in any way we could.
Michelle, MKC Photography

We are all business owners, but we are also people with families and feelings, and we bonded and supported each other in both aspects.
Tanesha, Rec Etch

We’ve evolved as a group even after the pan­demic. The shows are back, and we are still meeting.
Beck, Phoenix Revolution Press

Even in a “pandemic lock­down,” I felt like I had a support group and team that cared about me and our business survival. As a small business owner trying to figure out my next move and make sense of the situation, that meant everything.
Hope, Fly Paper Products

Brands in Bosses Helping Bosses Group